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Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapeutic modality that combines techniques from western cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psycho-educational modules, and eastern mindfulness-based practices. It was developed in the late 1980s by Marsha M. Linehan as a therapeutic approach specifically geared to treat individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), suffering from pervasive suicidal thoughts and/ or attempts. DBT remains the gold-standard form of treatment for individuals with BPD and according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), has since been recognized as an effective method of treatment for a wide range of other mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance use disorder (SUD), eating disorders, and more. DBT emphasizes the psychosocial aspects of treatment and cultivates the systematic learning of new emotional coping skills.

Psychology Today explains that the “goal of DBT is to transform negative thinking patterns and destructive behaviors into positive outcomes.” Dialectical behavior therapy is a multifaceted, rigidly structured therapeutic approach that is conducted in three distinct therapeutic settings. Within each setting, DBT focuses on providing therapeutic skills in four key areas, known as the four modules. They include the following, provided by the Linehan Institute:

  1. Core Mindfulness: skills focused on improving an individual’s ability to accept and be present in any given moment.
  2. Distress tolerance: skills focused on increasing an individual’s tolerance of negative emotions instead of attempting to avoid or escape them.
  3. Interpersonal effectiveness: skills focused on increasing an individual’s communication strategies.
  4. Emotion regulation: skills focused on helping an individual identify, name, and understand the function of emotions, and increasing one’s ability to regulate emotions by decreasing emotional impulsivity.

Each component of the DBT process is integral to its success. DBT includes weekly individual therapy sessions, weekly DBT group skills training sessions, and as-needed phone coaching. One-on-one therapy sessions provide a client and his or her clinician with the opportunity to co-create behavior plans that incorporate long- and short-term goals to improve self-worth, establish self-compassion, and acceptance, and develop a positive self-identity. In DBT skills training group sessions, the clinician running the session will follow the lessons provided in the DBT curriculum, teach the skills, and facilitate activities to allow the participants to practice using the DBT skills learned. After each DBT skills training group session the clinician will assign homework to help reinforce the information taught during the session. Phone coaching provides an individual with twenty-four-hour access to support between sessions, should a crisis arise. The entire DBT program takes about six months to complete, as six weeks are allocated to each of the four modules.

The information above is provided for the use of informational purposes only. The above content is not to be substituted for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment, as in no way is it intended as an attempt to practice medicine, or give specific medical advice, including, without limitation, advice concerning the topic of mental health. As such, please do not use any material provided above to disregard professional advice or delay seeking treatment.

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